Ruinous falls and soaring impetus

Headphones, a pen, a notebook and the sea: a trip to Genova to rediscover a true gaze on young people.

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The young people of the parish of Santa Giulia on a walk along the seaside of Genova Nervi.

Let’s face it. We adults get nervous if kids spend too much time in front of their smartphones; the trap and rap music they listen to, at times, we just can’t digest it; and then if they go through a day without any initiative, we say they are afflicted with “juvenile malaise,” a category that is loved by the newspapers. Yet, last Saturday, I witnessed something different.

With our high school kids, we took a day trip to Genoa: 65 teenagers, slouching and half asleep, boarded the bus in Turin. I handed everyone a booklet and pen. At roll call, they barely make a sound. After an hour of travel, someone at the back of the bus regained consciousness and activated their bluetooth speaker, and not even too loudly, to tell the truth. “Hey, there’s life then!” I thought, but immediately the disappointment began, at least from my point of view: Emis Killa, Tedua, Ernia, Geolier, the latest in Italian rap.

We got to Genova and, as I had imagined, the pendulum continued even as we walked around the narrow streets: “I’m tired, when will we get there?”. “I’m hungry!”. “But isn’t there the sea in Genova?”. “Do you know where we can buy some focaccia?”. The streets of Genova were incredibly beautiful. The cathedral was majestic but the kids seemed more captivated by a mime who was able to stay, at least it seemed, suspended in mid-air.

As I passed through the narrow streets, I was captured by the colors, the clothes hanging in the windows, the faces of the old men. It all reminded me of Naples, my first mission. Meanwhile, the kids took a selfie with a giant sign that said, Kiss me!

We arrived at the port, free time. I opted for a focaccia on the waterfront, and about ten boys came with me. We ate, dreaming of boats we could never have. On returning to the bus, I asked the others what they did on their lunch break: “Nothing much, walked around…”; “We stayed in the parking lot eating our sandwiches…”; “We bought necklaces at the stalls.” I’m beginning to think the newspapers are right. Can it be that they are never surprised by anything?

Then the bus took us to Nervi, the Anita Garibaldi promenade. We arrived in a clearing, right on the seafront. I said to everyone, hoping to turn the day around, “Well, now we’re going to take half an hour to ourselves. You have your headphones, your phone, a booklet, a pen. Most importantly, there is the sea. Listen to the songs I send you on our group chat and meanwhile read the lyrics you find in the booklet.”

They chose the most extreme point of the rocks, almost as if they wanted to embrace the whole sea with their gaze

So I sent the WhatsApp group a few songs: one by rapper Anastasio, Correre (Run) one by Madame, MamiPapi, and one by Anas, our Anastasio, Se tu sapessi, (If you only knew). The kids headed to the waterfront. Some sat on the bench, some on the little wall. Most of them took a path that ended at the high cliff.

A little worried, I caught up with them; there were about 30 of them. I was about to scold them but I restrained myself: it’s the first truly adolescent thing they have done. Young people are capable of ruinous falls but also of soaring impetus. They chose the most extreme point of the rocks, almost as if they wanted to embrace the whole sea with their gaze. I had not thought of that. I remained amazed. I saw them listening to the music, looking at the water as if it were the first time, many writing, some reading: “Mami, tell me that a mistake is always forgivable” sang Madame in the song I had sent: in the lyrics, there was endless food for thought. Minutes passed, and the kids gave no sign of wanting to move. They just stood there looking at the sea, listening to the songs again. So, I went to get them. They returned in silence to the meeting point. We said a prayer and went to get gelato. In their eyes, a peace and a joy had descended which I had not yet seen.

Juvenile malaise exists, the newspapers are right. But we adults, besides criticizing, do we find time to listen to kids and what they like? Maybe we can find something good even in rap and trap music. Do we still have the courage to propose something great, even risking doing so by avenues we had not imagined before? Or do we just look at them as a problem, worried that they will stay within a set scheme? Genova taught me to look at young people with hope: they are capable of ruinous falls, which can be forgiven, but also of soaring impetus, which is to be sustained.

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